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Bellarmine Museum of Art Opens

Publicly inaugurated on October 25, 2010, the Bellarmine Museum of Art (BMA) at Fairfield University is the fruit of many years’ labor. The museum’s mission statement makes its objectives clear:

“…The Bellarmine Museum is dedicated to preserving, studying, and exhibiting those objects entrusted to its care, while never losing sight of its obligation to educate and inspire its many audiences, for the greater enrichment of all.”

Asked about the impact of the Bellarmine Museum of Art, Jill Deupi, J.D., Ph.D., the museum’s director and an assistant professor of art history in Fairfield’s Department of Visual and Performing Art, stated: “There is no doubt that the Bellarmine will substantially enhance the art history program and all that it has to offer. With the works of art located in one central location featuring an onsite multi-media smART classroom, the process of hands-on learning will rise to a new level.”

Dr. Deupi has expansive educational plans for the museum, and is currently working on creating new volunteer programs, outreach initiatives and K-12 arts education partnerships. Assisting her in these endeavors is New Canaan resident and docent at the Yale Center for British Art, Kathleen Leitao, whose son Daniel is a junior at Fairfield. Among Deupi and Leitao’s plans is the reservation of one Saturday each month for family activities in the galleries. Leitao, who is volunteering her time and expertise to help plan these programs, saw an opportunity in the Bellarmine Museum to work with schools to “help them use our collection as part of their curriculum, particularly the casts of ancient Greek sculptures.” She continued: “There is a lot of focus in museum education today on finding ways to bring art into the classroom to support curriculum goals rather than have the museum be primarily a field trip.”

The Bellarmine’s main gallery, The Frank and Clara Meditz Gallery, is named in honor of the parents of the lead donor to the project, University Trustee John Meditz ’70. Its evocative footprint – which resembles an early Christian basilica in plan – makes the Meditz Gallery an ideal space for showcasing ten paintings from the Italian Renaissance and Baroque periods, works gifted to the University by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation via Bridgeport’s Discovery Museum. In a smaller side gallery, highlights from the University’s collection of plaster casts after exemplary works from ancient Rome and Greece (including eight recently donated to the University by the Acropolis Museum in Athens) are displayed. The corridor adjacent to the Meditz gallery holds casts of significant pieces from the Parthenon. In addition to these objects, the museum houses a range of non-Western art artifacts (including pre-Columbian vessels, 19th-century South East Asian sculptures and African masks), and is fortunate enough to have pieces from the Celtic, Byzantine, Medieval and Romanesque periods on loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Department of Medieval Art and the Cloisters.

In designing the new museum, Jim Childress, FAIA and Stephen Holmes, AIA of Centerbrook Architects and Planners of Centerbrook, Conn. transformed what had been a utilitarian storage area into an elegant yet functional space. Childress said that the thick concrete walls in the catacomb-like lower level of the original mansion conveyed a sense of mystery. “If you step through the small basement door of the lobby, you discover a place of refuge away from the world,” he said. “The gallery form we designed was inspired by an almost complete cruciform plan that we discovered in [there].”

The Bellarmine Museum of Art has been, and continues to be, a truly collaborative venture. First came the “vision” from faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences, above all Dr. Katherine Schwab, Curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art Historic Plaster Cast Collection, Dr. Marice Rose, Curator of Medieval and Celtic Art, and Dr. Philip Eliasoph, who served as Curator of the Kress Collection from the time these paintings were gifted to Fairfield until 2009. Next came critical buy-in from Fairfield’s senior administrators who, understanding the project’s fit within the university’s broader mission and strategic plan, committed to raising funds to make the museum a reality. Then there were the donors, including Mr. Meditz, the Samuel H. Kress Foundation and the Charles and Mabel P. Jost Foundation. Finally, there was the staff that was hired to see the project through to fruition, including the director, Dr. Jill Deupi, and the Collections Manager, Carey Mack Weber, together with a host of student interns, volunteers and workers. Together, these, and other, individuals will carry the Bellarmine Museum into the future, with exciting plans for growth and development.

Fundraising for the project and the museum’s endowment continues. The National Endowment for the Humanities has provided generous support through an award of a $500,000 four-to-one challenge grant. This award mandates that the University raise $2 million by 2013 to ensure receipt of NEH challenge funding. Individuals and representatives of corporations and foundations interested in partnering with the University in supporting the Bellarmine Museum of Art are encouraged to contact Geri Derbyshire, Director of Major Gifts, at [email protected]

Bellarmine Museum of Art
Fairfield University
1073 North Benson Road
Fairfield, CT 06824
(203) 254-4000, ext. 4046
[email protected]

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